Tag Archives: 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(a)

D.Kan.: “A & P Mechanic” Was Non-Exempt; Learned Professional Exemption Was Inapplicable, Because Plaintiff’s Work Was Routine Mechanical Work

Dressler v. Kansas Copters and Wings, Inc.

This decision was rendered following a bench trial.  Plaintiff an “A&P Mechanic” sought unpaid overtime pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  The Defendant asserted that Plaintiff was exempt from overtime under the professional exemption.  Rejecting Defendant’s assertions, the Court ruled that Plaintiff was not professionally exempt, because his job duties did not meet any of the duties requirements for the application for such exemption.

Reciting its findings of fact, the Court stated:

“Plaintiff David Dressler is a certified A & P mechanic. After graduating from high school, plaintiff joined the United States Marine Corps. For five years, plaintiff worked as an aviation hydraulics mechanic in the Marines. Plaintiff then worked several years as a dental assistant. In January 2005, plaintiff enrolled in the Aviation Institute of Maintenance. Plaintiff obtained his A & P certification in August 2006. Plaintiff was then employed by Midwest Corporate Aviation and Wells Aircraft. On March 15, 2008, plaintiff applied for a position with Kansas Copters & Wings, Inc.

Kansas Copters is a factory authorized dealer and service center for the Robinson R22 helicopter. The president of the company, defendant Earl Schreiber, decided to offer plaintiff a position because of plaintiff’s experience with helicopters in the military and his education. On March 21, plaintiff signed an employment agreement with Kansas Copters. Plaintiff additionally signed a non-compete agreement in which he agreed to not accept employment for any company that offers the same services as defendants.

The employment agreement states in pertinent part:

Your primary function would be to work as an A & P mechanic. All of our employees are responsible for facility maintenance and janitorial duties…. You may be required to work on your days off and/or holidays from time to time. You will be required to travel and attend courses as needed by the company.

Should you terminate your employment we require a thirty (30) day advance notice. Any notice of less than thirty (30) days and/or employment of less than three years would require for you to reimburse the company(s) any funds spent on your training, attending courses, and any other expenses …

As such, the starting salary for this overtime exempt position considering your qualifications is $600.00 per week … Compensatory time is earned hour for hour for every hour in excess of Sixty (60) hours per work week…. The company(s) reserve the right to withhold compensatory time and/or regular pay, and/or vacation time and/or holiday pay in the amount equal to what the company(s) have paid for aforementioned training and expenses, etc., until you have served at least three (3) years continued employment.

Earl Schreiber drafted the employment agreement after consulting with his attorney. Schreiber determined that an A & P mechanic at his company would be exempt from the overtime provisions in the FLSA due to the specialized training and unique services offered by defendants. In making his determination, Schreiber researched the issue of overtime by reviewing brochures from the federal government and browsing the internet. Schreiber also contacted other businesses which contracted with Robinson aircraft. Schreiber learned that these businesses also paid their mechanics a weekly rate. Schreiber therefore determined that the position of an A & P mechanic would be exempt from overtime.

Plaintiff’s work at Kansas Copters was supervised by Laurence Schreiber, who was also an A & P mechanic. Plaintiff was required to perform routine maintenance on Robinson helicopters. Plaintiff was also required to diagnose issues that arose with Kansas Copters’ customers’ aircraft for non-scheduled maintenance. Plaintiff would adjust flight control surfaces, make repairs and adjustments to the engine, and replace parts. Plaintiff would then certify whether the aircraft was safe for flight. In addressing and diagnosing problems, plaintiff would review the flight history and utilize the manuals that were specific to the aircraft. Plaintiff did not deviate from the manuals. Plaintiff did not modify the flight systems and he was not hired to design modifications to the aircraft.

In addition to making repairs at the airport in Augusta, plaintiff was also expected to service Robinson helicopters at other locations. On one occasion during his employment, plaintiff traveled to Nebraska to make repairs on a Robinson helicopter. Plaintiff was also required to perform maintenance on the facility. Plaintiff would clean the floors, paint the hangar and pull weeds. All employees at Kansas Copters were required to assist in the upkeep of the facility. Plaintiff was required to do this type of work when he was not working on a helicopter.

Plaintiff’s work schedule initially required him to work from 8 a .m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Plaintiff then attended the Robinson Training Course in California during the week of May 11. After returning from the course, plaintiff was certified to work on Robinson helicopters. Plaintiff then began working on Saturdays for eight hours in addition to his regular forty-hour work week. Plaintiff’s compensation rose to $625 a week due after successful completion of the training course.

Plaintiff’s last day of employment with Kansas Copters was August 20, 2008. Instead of issuing plaintiff his final check in the amount of $625, Kansas Copters withheld plaintiff’s pay for reimbursement for the Robinson course.”

Determining that Plaintiff was not professional exempt, the Court reasoned:

“To qualify for the learned professional exemption, an employee’s primary duty must be the performance of work requiring advanced knowledge in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction. This primary duty test includes three elements:

(1) The employee must perform work requiring advanced knowledge;

(2) The advanced knowledge must be in a field of science or learning; and

(3) The advanced knowledge must be customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.

29 C.F.R. § 541.301(a).

First, in determining whether the initial element is met, the court is guided by the definition set forth in the regulations:

The phrase “work requiring advanced knowledge” means work which is predominantly intellectual in character, and which includes work requiring the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment, as distinguished from performance of routine mental, manual, mechanical or physical work. An employee who performs work requiring advanced knowledge generally uses the advanced knowledge to analyze, interpret or make deductions from varying facts or circumstances. Advanced knowledge cannot be attained at the high school level.  29 C.F.R. § 541.301(b).

The testimony in this case established that plaintiff performed his position as an A & P mechanic in strict compliance with guidelines set forth by the manufacturer. Plaintiff could not deviate from the design of the helicopter or make any modifications without specific input from the manufacturer. Plaintiff’s work was routine and he worked on the same type of aircraft. The court finds that plaintiff’s work was not predominantly intellectual in character. Plaintiff’s work was routine mechanical work and therefore does not qualify for the learned professional exemption.

Even if the court were to find that the first element was met, the final two elements have not been proven. The second element is as follows:

The phrase “field of science or learning” includes the traditional professions of law, medicine, theology, accounting, actuarial computation, engineering, architecture, teaching, various types of physical, chemical and biological sciences, pharmacy and other similar occupations that have a recognized professional status as distinguished from the mechanical arts or skilled trades where in some instances the knowledge is of a fairly advanced type, but is not in a field of science or learning.  29 C.F.R. § 541.301(c).

Clearly, an aircraft mechanic does not fall into the traditional professions listed in the regulation. Defendants cite Paul v. Petroleum Equip. Tools Co., 708 F.2d 168 (5th Cir.1983) to support the position that pilots have been found to qualify for the professional employee exemption. In Paul, the court determined that flying is a field of science or learning because the pilot “must acquire extensive knowledge of aerodynamics, airplane regulations, airplane operations, instrument procedures, aeronautical charts, and weather forecasting.” 708 F.2d at 173. Plaintiff, however, is not a pilot. Plaintiff’s knowledge is not similar to what is required of a pilot. Plaintiff’s learning is of a mechanical nature and that is excluded by the regulation.

The final element has also not been met. The regulations explain the element as follows:

The phrase “customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction” restricts the exemption to professions where specialized academic training is a standard prerequisite for entrance into the profession. The best prima facie evidence that an employee meets this requirement is possession of the appropriate academic degree. However, the word “customarily” means that the exemption is also available to employees in such professions who have substantially the same knowledge level and perform substantially the same work as the degreed employees, but who attained the advanced knowledge through a combination of work experience and intellectual instruction. Thus, for example, the learned professional exemption is available to the occasional lawyer who has not gone to law school, or the occasional chemist who is not the possessor of a degree in chemistry. However, the learned professional exemption is not available for occupations that customarily may be performed with only the general knowledge acquired by an academic degree in any field, with knowledge acquired through an apprenticeship, or with training in the performance of routine mental, manual, mechanical or physical processes. The learned professional exemption also does not apply to occupations in which most employees have acquired their skill by experience rather than by advanced specialized intellectual instruction. 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(d).

While plaintiff clearly gained his education from technical school and Marine Corps experience, advanced education is not required in order to gain FAA certification. Plaintiff’s short course of training with the manufacturer of Robinson helicopters does not amount to a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction. Defendants have again cited cases which deal only with pilots. Plaintiff is not a pilot. The language in the regulation contemplates that some individuals may qualify for the exemption without formal education but then cites rare examples of occupations which routinely required advanced education. The examples cited are clearly those professions which are highly intellectual in nature and not mechanical, like that of an A & P mechanic.

The court finds that plaintiff’s position as an A & P mechanic is not exempt under § 213(a)(1) because he does not qualify as a professional.”

To read the entire decision, click here.

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